Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard credits family and football for his never counted out mentality

Trail Blazers

We've seen this movie before.

If the opportunity is there, Damian Lillard, more often than not, finds a way to drain an improbable game-winner.

Saturday night in Chicago, Lillard’s ambition and determination were on full display as he hit yet another buzzer-beater – this time against the Chicago Bulls.

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At this point in Lillard’s career, game-winners are no surprise to anyone who has followed his career. 

Heck, he's practically made a name for himself because of them.

Just ask Gary Trent Jr.

It's what he does... I knew it was going in when he shot... Because he's Damian Lillard.

Gary Trent Jr. said postgame

But why is it that Lillard is a magnet for miracles?  

 

Where did that confidence and ambition come from?

The story is one that may be surprising-- it has nothing to do with basketball.

It's Lillard’s family and playing pop-warner football that Rip City has to thank for the magic of never counting Lillard out.

"I always reference my upbringing," Lillard said, "And the kind of family that I come from because just the challenge – how competitive it is in my family.”

It could be something like a spelling bee. It could be anything. We compete to the death.

Damian Lillard

Lillard sat calm, cool and collected while speaking with the media following his impressive finish to help Portland take a 123-122 victory over Chicago. 

It was as if nothing even happened. He's been in this position before. 

Lillard's 27-foot three-pointer as time expired capped off a 44-point night to go along with nine assists.

But again, this is nothing new for Lillard.

And it’s not just his family and spelling bees that shaped Lillard to be the determined winner that we all know.

Never wanting to play football was also a big piece, especially with how hard his family pushed him to stay on the gridiron.

“When I was eight years old, my whole family played football," he said. "My brother was a football player. My older cousin, who is like my brother that lived with me my whole life, was a football player. All my cousins was football players and basketball was a secondary sport. Everybody could hoop, but that wasn’t the main sport for my family.”

But since it wasn't his main sport, it took until he won Defensive Player of the Year when he was 11 years old to convince his family that he wasn’t “scared” of football.

It's just he wanted to play basketball, instead.

 

I was a basketball player… When I was eight [my family] was like – ‘okay, you’re old enough to come play junior pee-wees. So I was like, ‘okay, I’ll play, whatever.’ But I really didn’t want to play.

Damian Lillard

Lillard admittedly faked being sick just so he didn’t have to go to football practice. He did not want to be out there.

After that one season of pop warner football, he quit.

So he thought. 

That’s when his family got after him.

“My family was getting on me like – ‘you scared, you don’t want to get hit, you a sixth-play player… I remember that everybody was just getting on me for the next year and a half, like – ‘you scared, you don’t want to play, you don’t want to get hit.'”

But it was the following football season that Lillard believes shaped him into the player that has ice running through his veins and lives for the big moments.

I told my family ‘I’m going to play. I’m going to play next year. I’m going to play one more time.’ And when I was 11 years old, I came back and I played – I was Defensive Player of the Year. I was all over the field,” Lillard said.

I was so good in football that my family really wanted me to get into it and take it serious, but after that I quit again because it was like – for me, if you all want to challenge me this way, I’m going to answer the call and I’m going to show you, I’m not scared, it’s just not what I want to do.

Between his skill and that never count me out mentality, Trail Blazers fans and the organization are thankful that it was basketball that Lillard wanted to pursue.

And now we can thank the competitive Lillard family and his dislike of playing football for Saturday's game-winner, which was the third Lillard-buzzer-beater walk-off of his career.